ary 1790, it was composed of men who tended to reflect the views of George Washington and his administration. In short, they were all federalists--the word was not uniformly capitalized then--and they were firm believers in the need for a strong federal or national government as a condition of survival. The Federalists remained in power until Jefferson defeated them in 1800--over 12 years. Quite naturally, then, when Marshall came to the Supreme Court every one of its members shared his political and judicial philosophy.
Since the court had delivered opinions in only a handful of cases when John Marshall was appointed, there could hardly be a more propitious moment for a judge of great intellectual capacity and remarkable qualities of statesmanship to ascend the highest court in the country. He had every advantage in his favor: he was very literally writing on a clean slate, with the support of five colleagues who shared his basic philosophy, and he had the wit and courage to make the most of his opportunity. As a soldier in the Continental Army, he had learned the need for a unified and strong national government to ensure the cohesiveness essential to survival of a new nation composed of three million highly individualistic and scattered people. As a political leader of Virginia, a member of its legislature, a member of the national Congress, and a Secretary of State, he understood government. Moreover, as one of the leaders in the Virginia struggle to secure adoption of the new Constitution over the vigorous opposition of men of such stature as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, he knew how fragile were the ties that held the former colonies together.
Thus the everlasting benefit of a country begotten in revolution and weaned in confusion and conflict, the United States of America was to be tutored in constitutional law for 34 formative years by a man who knew precisely what was needed to make a strong nation.
Small wonder, then, that John Adams in 1823, looking back, saw his appointment of John Marshall to the Supreme Court of the United States as one of his greatest contributions to his country. How indeed could there have been a greater one?